Opinion: Reaching Arab hearts and minds | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 08.02.2015
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Opinion: Reaching Arab hearts and minds

The killing of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh has shocked the world. But it's not enough to be disgusted. It's time to come up with a new strategy in the fight against Islamist terror, writes DW's Naser Schruf.

Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, al Shabab, Taliban militants and the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" (IS) in particular: Terror groups are increasingly controlling political events in many Muslim countries. All these groups claim to refer to a "pure" and "true" Islam to justify their destructive and inhuman warfare: They say they are taking the Koran and the words of Prophet Mohammad literally.

But the attempts at justifying the public burning of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh has proven that the jihadists interpret the prophet's traditions as they see fit. Mohammad has been quoted as saying: "No one but God has the right to use fire as punishment."

Criticism from within 'IS'

IS has broken that rule and rejects any form of criticism - also from its own peers - by making use of theologically complex evasion tactics on Twitter. According to the usually well-informed Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which is associated with the Syrian opposition, the terrorists plan to put a cleric on trial who was linked to the group yet came forward to criticize the burning on religious grounds.

Do Islam and the Sharia law really justify terror? I don't think it's constructive to debate this again and again. Islam is also what believers and those who refer to the religion make of it. And the majority of Muslims in the Arab world is against terror just like the majority of the people in Western countries - and not just since the brutal killing of the Jordanian pilot.

No long-term strategy

What's lacking is a long-term and credible international strategy against terror - there are a number of challenges that need addressing: First, the strategy needs to deal with the terrorists' successes in terms of recruiting new fighters- not only in the Arab world but also in Western countries. Second, the strategy has to find a solution to the shockingly professional and successful misuse of Internet and social media for hate speech and recruitment - that's unfortunately very popular among young people. And third, it needs to tackle the dangerous ability especially of IS to form new alliances and create new operating fields for its terror - from Sinai in Egypt to Libya and Algeria to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Naser Schruf (photo: DW)

Naser Schruf heads DW's Arab department

It's part of the terror organization's routine to spread terror by distributing its horrifying actions on video tape. But the group didn't factor in the hefty backlash when Muslims and even IS supporters criticized the burning of another Muslim. This horrible event and the disgusted reactions by people could be an opportune moment to put the joint fight of Western and Islamic States against IS on firm footing:

First, military pressure on IS has to be increased by specifically targeting troops and military positions - but without taking citizens in Iraq and Syria hostage. There can be no airstrikes on residential areas such as what happened in IS stronghold Raqqa. These kinds of attacks only lead people to resent the anti-IS coalition and makes them cross over to the IS.

Second, it's up to religious institutions and dignitaries in the region to draw a clear line between Islam and IS terror. The Al Azhar mosque in Cairo which is the main source of legislation for millions of Sunnis could play a leading role. However, the statement by high-ranking scholar Ahmed al-Tajib who wants to "kill, crucify [IS members] or cut their limbs off" is not the right way. Revenge doesn't lead forward; if at all it provokes a greater degree of barbarization and violence.

And copying IS methods is the wrong approach anyway, if one wants to overcome terror and violence in people's heads. There needs to be an alliance of those who understand religion as a moral and civilized guideline for their actions, as basis for peace and mutual respect. Sunnis and Shiites have to be part of that round table as well as Christians, Yazidis and others.

Winning people's hearts and minds

It's not enough to merely distance oneself from IS. It's about showing numerous desperate young people in the region a form of religion that's not based on exclusion, terror and violence. It's about speaking to their hearts and minds. Especially young people in the Arab world often live in a social climate mired in conflicts - without any hope of prosperity, education or development, without any true right of participation in their societies.

The "Arab Spring" hasn't been able to change that. And as long as it's going to stay that way, it won't be possible to contain terror and violence - even if the anti-terror-alliance were to release bombs over Syria and Iraq for the next 30 years.

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